Summer 1994 Journal: Exploring Telecommunications and Distance Learning

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Summer 1994

For more information, contact:
John O. Harney, Executive Editor, The New England Journal of Higher Education
jharney [at] nebhe [dot] org

Aug. 27, 1994

BOSTON — The telecommunications revolution promises to liberate students, workers and others from the constraints of time and space, while permitting unprecedented interConnection and collaboration, according to a series of articles to be published next week in Connection: NEW ENGLAND’S JOURNAL OF HIGHER EDUCATION AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.

Connection is the journal of the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE).

NEBHE recently established a Regional Commission on Telecommunications and Distance Learning co-chaired by two pioneers in the field: Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Charles I. Bunting and University of Maine at Augusta President George P. Connick. The commission will examine ways the six New England states and the region’s 250-plus colleges and universities may collaborate on telecommunications and distance learning initiatives.

In Connection, Congressman Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts writes of a world “where we will be able to work at home or at the beach or on the road, using super-intelligent videoconferencing equipment; where our kids will be able to tap into a world of knowledge available at their fingertips; where our doctors can make housecalls without ever leaving the office; where space and time cease to be deterrents to doing business or earning a degree or even ‘visiting’ loved ones.”

Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop recounts how a wounded U.S. soldier in Somalia received treatment from an expert doctor thousands of miles away in the United States, thanks to a sophisticated camera in the helmet of a medical corpsman at the soldier’s side.

Nathan Felde, executive director of video information service development at NYNEX, explores how networks can deliver the benefits of “being there” without the costs. Felde writes that telecommunications technologies can “reduce the occurrence and cost of ineffective teaching minutes and redundancies” and more efficiently deliver “the experiences of epiphany and enlightenment that last a lifetime.”

To be sure, the commentators voice some concerns about the telecommunications revolution. Markey warns against the creation of “information apartheid — a nation of information haves and have-nots.”

Robert F. Tinker, chief science officer at TERC, a Cambridge, Mass., nonprofit educational research outfit, compares today’s approaches to educational computer networking to the early view of steam engines merely as instruments to help sailing ships move out of calm seas. “The cutting-edge inventors of the time could not see that steam would lead to larger, all-steel boats that would not need sails,” writes Tinker. “Many uses of computer networking are steam sailboats — slightly better ways of doing what educators have always done, but within the old paradigm, in which an authority conveys knowledge and students passively take it in.”

A summary of Connection articles follows:

The Great Digital Convergence: Implications for Growth • U.S. Congressman Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts explains why “the coming together of computing, video and telecommunications technologies will create a digital convergence that will alter our economy and our social fabric far more profoundly than anything we have seen in the past 20 years.”

Higher Education in the Age of Information • University of Maine at Augusta President George P. Connick and his executive assistant, Jane A. Russo, explain how thousands of Maine islanders and others historically excluded from higher education because of geographic isolation are now afforded education and training through Maine’s nationally recognized Interactive Television system. “Students don’t have to go to college anymore,” Connick and Russo observe. “College goes to them.”

Vermont Via the Information Superhighway • Vermont Gov. Howard Dean discusses his pledge to bring the information superhighway to students in rural Vermont. “Connecting Vermont’s schools to each other, to state libraries and especially to outstanding lecturers and instructors at colleges and universities across the nation will provide the maximum number of curriculum choices and help level the playing field for students as we enter the 21st century,” the governor writes.

Interactive Television in a Rural State • Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Charles I. Bunting explains how Vermont Interactive Television (VIT) serves the needs of education, business and state government, with programming ranging from traditional coursework to business teleconferencing. “That the VIT is owned by no one interest and available to all may be its single most distinguishing characteristic,” notes Bunting.

Telemedicine: 21st Century Housecalls • Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop describes how dramatic changes in communications technology make it possible to link patients and their local doctors with distant medical specialists. Koop explains how a health communications network being developed in northern New England could become a model for a the kind of national health information infrastructure needed to achieve health care reform.

The Metabolism of Information: A Bigger One-Room School? • Nathan Felde, executive director of video information service development at NYNEX, envisions sophisticated telecommunications networks allowing users to convey the full range of human emotion. “The ratio of students to teachers could be not just reduced, but reversed,” Felde writes. “A network with capacity and Connections will ultimately result in any learner having hundreds of “teachers,’ because all learners will be teachers.”

The Approaching Transformation of New England Higher Education • Former Worcester Polytechnic Institute President Edmund T. Cranch, explains how advances in digital techniques allow interactivity that comes close to replicating the actual classroom experience, while overcoming the constraints of space and time. But Cranch, now a NEBHE senior fellow, warns that high transmission rates and lack of cooperation threaten to undermine New England’s relative strength in educational telecommunications.

Into the Steamship Age: A New Networking Paradigm • Robert F. Tinker, chief science officer at TERC, a nonprofit educational research group, notes that the most important benefit of computer networking in education is the potential for telecollaboration, in which students and others use telecommunications technologies to work together on problems of mutual interest. Tinker outlines some success stories, but laments: “There are probably a few hundred small, free telecollaborative projects serving a few thousand classrooms, mostly at the precollege level, supported either by grants or individual teachers. But these come and go based on funding and the energy of their organizers.”

Telecommunications on Campus: Easing Faculty Fears • Bridgewater State College Provost John W. Bardo describes how one college helped its faculty bring telecommunications to the classroom. Bardo argues that while “faculty intransigence” is often seen as the primary impediment to fully implementing telecommunications technology, the technology itself is not yet living up to its promise. “Much of distance education remains passive,” Bardo writes. “The learner is an observer who may not even have an opportunity to ask questions of the presenter.”

Mass Ed OnLine: Bay State Students on the Technological Track • Massachusetts Secretary of Education Piedad F. Robertson explains how the Mass Ed OnLine initiative will link schools with higher education institutions and other entities to improve the sorry state of educational telecommunications in Massachusetts public schools.

New England’s Infocommunication Industrial Complex • Bank of Boston Senior Economist Richard J. DeKaser describes the emergence of New England’s “infocommunication complex,” a collection of: information creators, information packagers, information distributors and information enablers. DeKaser writes that the information enablers are a key part of New England’s economic landscape. Massachusetts is second to California in production of telecommunications equipment and touts a higher concentration of telecommunications equipment workers than any other state.

Telecommunications Access: A Public Good? • James J. Malachowski, chairman of the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission, ponders the regulatory future of telecommunications. “The critical issue is the value of telecommunications to the community,” Malachowski writes. “Is advanced telecommunications important enough to dictate that all ratepayers, even those who will be completely satisfied with Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS), pay the cost for services and deployment of new technologies in the network?”

Recovering: New England Emerges from Recession • Joseph B. Wharton, president of the New England Economic Project (NEEP) and assistant to the president and CEO of New England Electric System, and Yolanda K. Kodrzycki, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, examine New England’s economic outlook. The region is now in the midst of a long-awaited economic recovery, which will be characterized by rising living standards and falling unemployment rates over the next five years, the authors note.

The Ghost of New England’s Future: Reversing Declines in Educational Attainment • Stephen P. Coelen, executive director of the Massachusetts Institute for Social and Economic Research, and Diane L. Saunders, vice president for communications and public affairs at Nellie Mae, warn of dire consequences if New England leaders do not intervene to improve college completion rates. Coelen and Saunders note that while more students are getting into college now than 20 years ago, the rate at which those students complete four-year degrees has fallen. “When the current economic rebound assumes full force, New England is likely to return to a situation marked by shortages of highly educated people,” the authors note.

Reaching Out at Boston College • NEBHE Vice President JoAnn Moody explains why the graduation rate for students of color at Boston College stands around 85 percent, even as rates among minorities nationwide remain alarmingly low — about 32 percent for African-American students and 41 percent for Hispanics. Moody quotes Donald Brown, who has directed BC’s AHANA Office for more than a decade: “The constant reassurance we offer our students that they can make it has made the difference,” says Brown. “We let them know we care and we provide them with someone to talk to.”

Trustee Tasks: Setting the Agenda • Stanley Z. Koplik, the chancellor of higher education in Massachusetts, and John F. Welsh, associate director of academic affairs for the Kansas Board of Regents, examine priorities for trustees of public colleges and universities. Higher education consultants James Martin and James E. Samels focus on priorities for trustees of private institutions.


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